The Bahrain Grand Prix Preview 12 Apr 2007
Could it really be third time lucky for Formula One's new star?
It is a question that has to be asked: after his third place in Australia and second in Malaysia, can McLarens Lewis Hamilton complete his geometrical progression in Bahrain and make it three, two, one?
The 22 year-old Englishman has taken Formula One racing by storm so far this season, with his stunning podium drives in Melbourne and Sepang. And where Peter Arundell, the only driver previously to take podiums in his first two Grand Prix outings thereafter failed to do so again, Hamilton clearly has the potential to repeat the feat often and will almost certainly win a race in due course - it is surely just a matter of when.
McLaren come here cock-a-hoop after their excellent one-two victory over Ferrari in Malaysia, and remain confident that they will be very competitive in the dry desert heat too.
Ferrari, however, are also bullish. For a start Kimi Raikkonen will have a new engine this weekend and thus wont have the same concerns that he did in Malaysia, following the water loss during the final stages of the Australian race which gave him a win on his debut with the Scuderia. And Felipe Massa will be desperate to redeem himself after the lap-six mistake in Sepang, which arguably cost the red cars their chance of victory.
When we won in Australia, everyone said we were dominant, Jean Todt said dryly; When we lost in Malaysia they all said it was over. Obviously it is neither.
A great confrontation between the two top teams is definitely on the cards.
BMW Sauber have kept up their winter testing pace in the first two races and Nick Heidfeld is currently fourth in the drivers championship, so the white and blue cars will be in the thick of it again this weekend. So, too, should the Renaults be. The R25 and R26 won here for the past two years, and though that was also the case in Sepang where they disappointed last weekend, the team believe they are making progress again after a late start.
Williams were also very quick in Malaysia and the FW29 is clearly a pretty decent machine, so watch out for Nico Rosberg who set fastest lap here on his debut with the team last year. Unlike the bulk of their rivals, however, they didnt participate in Februarys pre-season test at Sepang, so Rosberg and team mate Alex Wurz will need to make the most of their Friday track time to quickly establish a baseline set-up.
Spyker were the other team to skip the Bahrain test, a decision they may yet come to regret. They also missed the Sepang test prior to last weekends Malaysian Grand Prix, and with a double DNF in that race, did not reap the rewards they had hoped for from their new aero package. The Ferrari-powered squad will be looking to bounce back this weekend.
The rest of the grid will likely be aiming for solid rather than spectacular progress. With no time to test since Malaysia, introducing a major, untested upgrade here would be a gamble. Instead, we can expect to see small improvements to the cars before the teams head back to base to concentrate on larger developments in anticipation of the start of the European season.
Bahrains Sakhir circuit has relatively low grip and is a medium downforce track that demands a lot of the brakes as drivers slow from over 300 km/h to downshift to either first or second gear on three occasions. The flow of the track between Turns 4 and 13 doesnt give them much chance to cool down, either.
Drivers want a well-balanced car with minimal understeer going into the corners and no time-consuming oversteer coming out, particularly as the abrasive surface requires them to look after their tyres - as in Malaysia, will be bringing their medium and hard compounds. Cooling is also critical, but nobody should have any real problems with that after Sepang.